Charles Rennie Mackintosh
- David Pollock
- 1 June 2009
This year is the centenary of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s biggest design triumph – Glasgow School of Art. David Pollock profiles the famous Art Nouveau architect.
‘There is hope in honest error,’ said Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of Glasgow’s most favoured sons, ‘none in the icy perfections of the mere stylist.’ Although his particular style of architecture and design has become posthumously recognised around the world for its decorative value, Mackintosh was an artist first and foremost: ‘The artist cannot attain to mastery in his art unless he is endowed in the highest degree with the faculty of invention,’ was another of his maxims.
This year marks the centenary of the Glasgow School of Art’s completion, a building whose design Mackintosh would continue to be celebrated for. A series of events will be ongoing throughout the year to celebrate the fact. Born in the Townhead area of Glasgow in 1868, not far from the site of the School of Art, Mackintosh became an apprentice architect at the age of 16. Gaining experience over the years and eventually travelling to Italy to see the country’s great buildings first-hand on the Alexander Thomson Travelling Studentship. Mackintosh would be handed his first big architectural job upon returning from the continent in the early 1890s.
Appropriately, that building - the Glasgow Herald Building, then headquarters to the newspaper enterprise - is now The Lighthouse, a dedicated gallery and visitor centre themed around architecture and design. So-called because of the jutting tower Mackintosh built at its summit, which still offers unspoiled views of a tight cluster of architecturally interesting buildings in Glasgow city centre. The Lighthouse also incorporates the Mackintosh Interpretation Centre, which gives detailed information on the intricacies of the building’s design.
The next decade and a half would be the continuing high watermark of Mackintosh’s career, when all of his greatest works were designed. During this period he also worked as part of a collaborative group named The Four, which included his wife Margaret Macdonald. Among the Glaswegian landmarks he would create as an employee and then a partner of the architectural firm Honeyman & Keppie were the light sandstone-fronted Daily Record Building just off Drury Street (another newspaper office, although this one is currently only viewable from the exterior), the Willow Tea Rooms, a small café which was restored in 1980 and is still in use today, and the major project that was the Scotland Street School, finished in 1906.
This last building was also the final major commission he would complete in Glasgow. With an economic downturn causing architectural firms to fold, he first resigned his partnership of Honeyman & Keppie in 1913 and then opened and closed his own short-lived firm, before leaving Glasgow with his wife and settling in Suffolk, London and then the South of France. Having taken on a couple of architectural jobs in these locations and built a portfolio of watercolour paintings, Mackintosh eventually died at the age of 60 in 1928.
Like Gaudi and Barcelona, though, his work has become synonymous with the look and feel of Glasgow, and the buildings he left behind have become famous far beyond the city as the finest examples of work by Britain’s leading Art Nouveau practitioner.
All of the buildings mentioned herewith can still be viewed inside or out, along with such gems as the Mackintosh House (an interior recreation of Mackintosh and Macdonald’s house within Glasgow University’s Hunterian Art Gallery, which includes many of Mackintosh’s distinctive furniture designs) and the House for an Art Lover, completed in 1996 from designs Mackintosh submitted to an architectural competition in 1901. Each and every one is a masterpiece in its own right.
The Mackintosh Experience Bus Tour
A hop-on, hop-off bus tour exploring Mackintosh’s influences and legacy, taking in The Lighthouse, Scotland Street School, House for an Art Lover, Kelvingrove Art Gallery, The Mackintosh House, Glasgow School of Art and the Willow Tearooms. Departs Glasgow city centre until 30 Sep.
The Mack Pack Tour
A fun tour of the Mackintosh building, incorporating activities from the ‘Mack Pack’; a digital tool designed by the Lighthouse and the Glasgow School of Art, it allows you to become a designer, furniture maker and architect – in a virtual world of course. Runs from Jun-Sep, Glasgow School of Art (E2), 167 Renfrew Street, 0141 353 4500, www.gsa.ac.uk
Mackintosh Walking Tours
View the architecture of Mackintosh and his contemporaries by foot - includes a 10 percent discount off food bills at the Willow Tea Room and Stereo Café within Mackintosh’s Daily Record Building. Depart from the Lighthouse, throughout Jun, 11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow (F4), 0141 221 6362, www.thelighthouse.co.uk
Glasgow School of Art Tours
An in-depth tour of the Mackintosh building taken in small groups, meaning you get a more intimate experience. They are led by student guides and each one incorporates a half hour ‘art class’ in one of the school’s famous studios. Runs from Jun-Sep, Glasgow School of Art (E2), 167 Renfrew Street, 0141 353 4500, www.gsa.ac.uk